Moving day is almost here. After seven years in Berlin, it is finally time to return to Tokyo. It’s true what they say: The hardest thing about leaving is saying farewell to friends. That means hugs and handshakes with a few dozen people. But then there are the others: the friends who have, without exception, stood loyally by me every day. Knowledgeable yet humble, mysterious yet transparent, firm yet flexible. I’m talking about all the books that I must leave behind. I haven’t counted them, but several hundred still fill my bookshelves. In fact, those shelves overflowed long ago, and the newer arrivals have been stacked on the floor, making my room something of a labyrinth. How did I get so many?!
It helps to be a wordsmith. Editors and colleagues have sent me hardbacks and paperbacks as reference materials. In this way, a number of Japan’s recent offerings have come to rest on my shelves. Other well-meaning acquaintances seemed to have sensed, somehow, that I was a bookworm and presented me with their must-reads.
But this is only part of the answer. There is something about this part of Europe that made it easier for books — particularly used books — to gather around me. In a nutshell, it’s the Cold War publications: all kinds of works from Eastern Bloc countries, published in Germany between the 1950s and the 1990s. Because they are high-quality publications and were well-treated, they are still in good condition and circulating in used book shops. For example, I’ve come across a practical chemistry guide from Hungary, chess manuals from the USSR and space fantasy from Poland — all in German translation. They’ve given me a window into a world that I had never seen before, and may never see again. The children’s books I’ve collected here have been especially illuminating. They’re usually well-illustrated and easy to read. You can get a real feel for what it must have been like to grow up in that time and place, on that other side of the Iron Curtain.
While I can’t claim to have read all or even most of these treasures, I have at least browsed through all of them. Rather than a reading experience, I feel as if I’ve just visited a museum. Or that dipping into them is like being an archaeologist, discovering new secrets.
But alas, now it is time for friends to part. Other bookworms have eagerly adopted dozens of my books, but that has hardly made a dent in my collection. Drastic measures may be necessary — I certainly can’t bring them all back to Japan. Or can I? How many of you can read German, or are willing to learn? (Tony László)